Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Last Liturgical Service

1. In the summer of 2005, College Wesleyan Church was still in its old building and facing another year of massive overcrowding as soon as the new school year would begin. We were already doing two services, but the space was so crowded I always thought of this episode of Star Trek in between services (notice the crowds in the background).

A genius idea was born--venues. The Green Room would be a cozy, coffee shop environment where you interacted more with each other and you could drink coffee during the service. Steve Deneff's sermon would be piped in by video feed. The chapel would be used for a "Cathedral Service." It would also watch the sermon with a feed from the main sanctuary but would feature more liturgical elements like weekly communion, the Lord's Prayer, and the Apostle's Creed.

Judy Huffman asked Bud Bence at first to do the "cathedral" venue, but he wasn't in a position to commit to a service every week at that time, so she asked me next if I would put together the service, since I had some experience with liturgy from my days in England.

2. The venues took on a life of their own. I have always been proud of the way College Wesleyan has managed to serve so many different worship styles and personalities. There has been a service for the older people who get up earlier and like hymns. There has been a service for people who want a more laid back and social environment. There has been a second main service with more contemporary music.

Then there has been what became the "Liturgical Service." I would say that this service served two basic sorts of people. On the one hand are those who, for whatever reason, worship better with the historical liturgy of the church than in the more common American format. But the venue has also served those who might need a day of quiet prayer or might really need to have communion today.

There has been something consummately Wesleyan about this set up. At one point in the past, we used to have a motto: "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity."  I love this quote. The different venues at CWC have said that there is no one right way to worship. The young people shouldn't look down on the older people for their hymns, and the older people shouldn't look down on the young people for their choruses. Everybody counts the same.

The Liturgical Service said that liturgy was also an option for a Wesleyan. The point was not that it was the only or preferred way. Often, Christians are condescending over liturgy on one side or another. They either think that those who worship in this way are spiritually dead or that those who don't worship in this way are spiritually shallow.

In any case, it made me happy to know that, somewhere in The Wesleyan Church, the Apostle's Creed and the Lord's Prayer were being said every Sunday. Somewhere in The Wesleyan Church communion was being offered every Sunday. It didn't have to be everywhere. That would defeat the point.

The point was that it was a valid option. It didn't have to be "vain repetition." Communion every week did not have to be meaningless. The Liturgical Service has proved it.

3. But a church shouldn't continue something just to continue something. That's a recipe for death. CWC has been in a new building now for about seven years. The overcrowding issue is forever gone. The problem now is more a distribution problem. The second service is out the wazoo, while there is plenty of space in the earlier service.

The overall plan is to go back to two services in the main sanctuary and shift the times a little later, hoping to catch some of the 10:30 crowd in a new 9:30 service. Meanwhile, the late rising college students will happily catch the 11am.

It might work. The worship wars are long over. The number of people who would be dissatisfied enough to go somewhere else over not having either hymns or liturgy is very small. This also allows the worship team to focus on just two services with a common set, one with some variety in style.

Perhaps it will kindle renewed unity and a common vision. Have the venues led to a kind of fragmentation of CWC as a community? I don't know, but it's possible. Will everyone meeting together in the sanctuary recharge the batteries and focus for mission? We'll see!


Mark Schnell said...

I would love to hear what Bob Whitesel might say about this. I know he championed multi-generational churches and the multi-venue style. I used to look down my nose at that style of worship service but when I took a class with him in the earliest online masters program at IWU I started to look at it in a new way. Then after moving to Marion last summer and worshipping in the Gathering venue at CWC I have enjoyed it very much. Sharie and I have never felt disconnected by watching Steve DeNeff on the video screen. But then again, we always knew he was just fifty or sixty yards away in the flesh, maybe that made a difference in our acceptance of that venue.

I have to disagree with the notion that the worship wars are long gone, though. I think we'll find out that moving to a one size fits all situation at CWC isn't going to be as simple as all that. I hope it is, I hope it's a wonderful thing for the church. But I keep thinking of that old saw - when you try to please everyone you end up pleasing no one.

Ken Schenck said...

Growth by Accident - Death by Planning, I think.

Mark Schnell said...

A House Divided: Bridging the Generation Gaps in Your Church.

::athada:: said...

Bummer! If you ever need a liturgical fix, go up Washington street and join us at the most Wesleyan church of all... Gethsemane Episcopal ;)

Thanks for your service during this service. I meant a lot to me when I was there ~8 yrs ago.

Ken Schenck said...

I've heard talk of an Anglican church plant in town. Of course I'll stay put...